Friday, 26 June 2009

17 August 1942

Out yesterday 3 to 5.15 pm/  Three ball games.  Supper very late – 7 pm instead of 5 pm but worth waiting for.  A change form the Ketan Hitam this morning.  Rib improving but still painful.  In spite of doctor’s instructions that the part should be painted with iodine every day, this has not been done.  As the medical service is here, it would be very surprising indeed it it had been.  I shall just have to practice Christian Science.  Two alarms already this morning but quite evidently only practice.


I returned to Braemar the same day and finished my holiday there.  A letter from Harrisons and Crosfield awaited me at home, with the request to be at their office in London on the following Tuesday for interview.  It was asking rather much to require leave of absence the very day after I had resumed duty but I was granted one day which was quite enough for my purpose.  I accordingly left Aberdeen at 7 pm of Monday evening, arriving in London at 7 o’clock next morning, returning by a train leaving London at 7 pm Tuesday which got me to Aberdeen by 7 am Wednesday morning, in good time for work. image Arrived at King’s Cross Station, I had a wash and shave in the toilet rooms there and then breakfasted in the Station restaurant.  My interview was for 10 o’clock but I was already in the vicinity of Great Tower Street by 9 am and sat on a bench on Tower Hill overlooking the Tower of London until the appointed hour.

I was interviewed by Mr Mitchell and Mr Thom who himself was a native of Dyce and the ordeal passed pleasantly.  At one point during his questioning he said to me, ‘You are not thinking of getting married, are you,’ to which I replied trustfully and rather bashfully, ‘No, not yet – but I have a girl.’  This simple question and reply were to have momentous consequences later.  However, after an interview of about half an hour, Mr Thom expressed himself satisfied and intimated to me that the appointment was mine.  The contract would be made up and I must return at 3 pm to append my signature and receive my copy of the document, together with sailing instructions etc.  Greatly elated at my good fortune, my first action on leaving the building was to send off a telegram to my parents which contained only two words ‘Got it’.  Thereafter, feeling in fine fettle I set out to see as much of London as my limited time would allow of.  Somehow or other, I found my way to the Monument which I climbed. image  It was a beautiful sunny day and the panorama of the great city spread out below me amply compensated for my breathlessness. imageI forget exactly how many steps there are in the Monument but more than enough is a fairly accurate estimate.  



From there I found the direction of St Paul’s Cathedralimage which I reached in due course and where I ascended to the Whispering Gallery,  in which the guide demonstrated the famous acoustic properties, and then to the top of the immense dome itself from which another magnificent view compensated me for my weary legs.image

I must have lunched somewhere but have no recollection of the proceeding and at 3 pm duly presented myself again at the office in Great Tower Street.  The contract awaited me, an imposing looking document of 8 foolscap pages simply bristling with seals and flourishing signatures.  As our American cousins would put it, it sure looked a million dollars but it proved itself latterly to be as valuable as the illuminated share certificate of a phoney gold mine. image Mr Thom informed me that I would sail on 16 October from London by SS Khiva of the P & O line,  transshipping for Java at Singapore, where I could apply to their office there for the necessary assistance and that the boat would be met by a representative who would arrange accommodation etc in Singapore for me.  On arrival at Batavia, Java, I should also be  met and taken under the wing of a member of the office staff there who would see to it that I reached Langen Estate safely and in one piece.  I was also advised to buy Hossfeld’s Dutch Grammar and Hugo’s Dutch Simplified.  This I duly did and to this day have never got beyond the first page of Hossfield.  But I must confess that Hugo’s book was very helpful indeed.  I spent my few remaining hours in London on the open top decks of buses, enjoying myself immensely in the contemplation of the most fascinating sight London can offer – the traffic.  A few days after my return to Aberdeen, I received my passage ticket and luggage labels and a cheque for £10 travelling expenses.  I was however very short of money for the purchase of the necessary outfit and consequently rather worried on that account.  I was at Northern Branch at the time and I confided my difficulty to Mr Grainger who very kindly approached a friend of his, a depositor at Northern, on the matter.  This was Mr William Riddoch, an elderly cattle dealer, with whom I myself was only slightly acquainted, but whom I learned to regard as a true friend and to respect as  a Christian gentleman of the finest type.  William Riddoch was a bachelor and a plain honest living and God fearing man whose guide in all his dealing with his fellowmen was the Good Book.  I learned later that I was by no means the first, and I am sure not the last, young man whom he assisted in a practical manner towards the goal of his ambitions.  In fact, it was rather a hobby of his to do good in this way.  Briefly, he advance me the sum of £60 which I undertook to repay as soon as I could.  I am glad to say that I did so within the year, thus discharging the financial obligation.  His kindness can never be repaid.  He himself considered that he was amply repaid if his protégés made good and was always ready to adopt one, even although in some cases he had been bitterly disappointed in his trust and his kindness shamefully abused.  When I expressed my gratitude to him, he replied, ‘ That’s alright laddie.  But just remember later when you have the means and opportunity to help some young lad as I am helping you now.  That’s all I want.’  Could there be a better rule for living than that?  William Riddoch was a simple man with I imagine, little education, but with more men of his stamp and less so called education, this world would be an infinitely better place.  He as passed on now but to me his memory will every be green and I shall not fail him in his precept.


Out from 3.10 to 4.30 pm.  Ball games.  Bill Leslie got a parcel in yesterday from Lydia.  He gave me 2 biscuits, double ones with icing in between and 3 candy balls.  All finished.  I have still got 2 squares of Swiss milk toffee and 5 Capstans.


My outfit was soon purchased and packed in a steel trunk which I bought from Shirras Long and a suitcase which was a parting gift from the Grosvenor Choir.  I had quite forgotten about my Choir until mention of the suitcase reminded me of my career as a choir conductor.   It is difficult to recall how it came about exactly but I suppose I was asked to form the choir which was composed of members of the ILP (the Independent Labour Party) of which my mother, having inherited her father’s interest in matters political, was an active supporter.  Politics have never interested me but if I have had my leaning in that direction at all, it has been towards the Socialist movement on account of its practical policy of endeavouring to secure better conditions for the masses.  I spent many pleasant evenings in the Grosvenor Rooms in Bridge Street where the ILP members foregathered and where, after the Grosvenor Choir was formed, rehearsals were held.  The choir was a mixed one of about 45 members, some staff readers but the majority sol fa and it was due much more, I am sure, to the unbounded enthusiasm of the choir as a while than to my capabilities as a conductor that the enterprise was so successful.  Without boasting, I think I can claim that the Grosvenor Choir was as good an amateur ensemble as could have been found in Aberdeen at that time.  It was, I believe, in 1924 that the choir was formed and I remember very well our first performance which took place one Sunday evening in the Picturedrome in Rosemount Viaduct.  In addition to the many part songs, about 12 in number, there were solos and quartettes and instrumental items as well as a few humorous Scotch recitations and our debut was an unqualified success.  From the ranks I had been singularly fortunate in forming a mixed quartette whcih , for the perfect blending of four voices, I have never heard equalled.  None of the voices was a powerful one and no ne voice at any time predominated so that singing in harmony was well nigh perfect, and especially in such a part song as Sweet and Low.  My sister Marjory was the soprano, Edith duff (?) the alto, Frank Pirie, tenor and Alex Catto (latter Councilor) bass.  Frank Pirie possessed one of the sweetest natural tenor voices I have ever heard.  He was very thin and consumptive looking and solo singing was apt to distress him somewhat.  Hardly to be wondered at considering that the poor chap was under nourished and had been out of work for about 2 years already at that time.  He was one of the finest men I have met and it is a privilege to have known him.  Poor frank was one of the victims of the first bombing attacks on Aberdeen in September 1940.  When I resigned from the conductorship on  leaving for Java, my uncle Peter took over the choir but some six months later, I believe, it was disbanded.  However, as I have already stated, the Choir presented me with a splendid leather suitcase which I used still and which forms a link with a very happy period of my life.


Note from Pat O’Neill

Last year my daughter was taken to the Whispering Gallery where her future husband proposed, little realising that her grandfather had been there all those years ago!

No comments: